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scarcely have been more intense than my affliction, when I beheld the deformed changelings which had been substituted for my lovely and well-proportioned copies. Of the rare portrait, by Marshall, of worthy master Michael Drayton, prefixed to my edition of his poems, not a vestige remained when the work was returned to me, save the notched residue of the leaf which had in happier hours united it to the book. Lucasta, the chaste light of the gallant Colonel Lovelace, by the cunning hand of Master Faithorne, had been ravished from the sanctuary in which she had reposed for ages, by the scissors of the same ruthless spoliator. I was beginning to ruminate in sober sadness upon the perfidy of men, and the obstinacy of the weaker sex, when, casting my eyes incidentally before me, I perceived my wife rummaging among my duodecimos, with a degree of industry and perseverance worthy of a less objectionable occupation.
“ What's the matter, my dear?" ejaculated I, in a tone of mingled impatience and dejection.
Only, love, that your books are in such shameful disorder," responded she, heaping, as she spoke, some score volumes upon the floor in the most chaotic confusion, “ that it is next to impossible to find anything one wants. There's our interesting neighbour, Mrs. Delamour, who has just arrived from Paris, has brought our Fanny the sweetest . pattern of a frock, à la Francaise, you ever saw; and as she finds the country somewhat dull, after the busy and brilliant scenes in which she has been moving, she has determined to drive away ennui by reading hard for the next few months.” Good heavens ! A clap of thunder would have had a less racking effect upon my nerves !
“ Read!' rejoined I, cold drops of perspiration trickling down my forehead,
why the flaunting marigold of a woman has, I will pledge my whole library to Vivian Grey or any other catchpenny, never read a book through in the whole course of her life !" I wish I could have added, she had never destroyed one ; but in the latter art she had arrived at so extraordinary a proficiency, that she ought (if he be a bachelor) to be united in the bands of holy matrimony to Mr. Mason, of Great Russell Street, who has purchased booksellers offal“ remainders” for the last forty years; and who, according to his own account, has annihilated more volumes, in his time, than were burned in the Alexandrian library; although, like some modern reviewers, he thanks his God that he has seldom read further than the title-pages of the vast numbers of works he has found it his duty to cut up.
Mrs. Delamour is one of a class of book-borrowers, who will ruin you a noble library in a twelvemonth, or less; not by malice prepense and aforethought, for to do the woman justice, she is incapable of that; but by lending your books to just two hundred idlers like herself, each of whom generously contributes his or her quota towards their disfigurement and eventual destruction. One lady reads your elegantly bound Rousseau in bed, and leaves a tumulus of tallow on the passage descriptive of the meeting of the “ self-torturing sophist” with Madame Wolmar, large enough to commemorate her admiration of the event, so long as the page in which it is registered shall exist. A second, puts the Saxon bride of Ivanhoe, and the whole of her attendants, into deep mourning, at the very moment she is plighting him her troth, by overturning an ink-standish upon the description; and the chances are about ten to one that this ensign of calamity is sympathetic enough, whilst she is engaged in preserving her own rosewood table from its advances, to communicate its sable hues to half the leaves in the volume; until they are as dark as the oracles of the Cumcean sybil. A third, a toilette reader, endeavours to deprive Dr. Johnson's style of its stiffness and turgidity, by inundating his “ Rambler" with Huile Antique à la Rose ; whilst a fourth manages to give “ Evelina" the benefit of a shower-bath before breakfast, by leaving her out for twelve hours upon a garden seat, to endure the pitiless pelting of a midsummer night's shower; until her eyes are so bleared, and her skin so swollen and soddened by the ablution, that her doting old father would scarcely be able to recognise her as his own offspring.
Not a few of these second-hand book-borrowers do not scruple to feed the hungry heroes and heroines of your novels, by administering to their necessities half the greasy crumbs of their breakfast and teatables ; now and then superadding to their benefactions a cup of tea or coffee ; and thus converting the fair face of La Reine de la Beauté, et de l'Amour of a tournament, into a tawny-coloured mulatto; whilst an unlucky movement of an arm, sometimes arrays the Black Prince, and his sably-accoutred attendant knights, in cream-coloured armour.
Of course, second-hand borrowers are, even if honestly disposed, the most careless recipients of your favours of any genus of the species ; because they know that the person to whom they are required to return the book, will not read it after them; and they are equally satisfied, that whatever mischief they may do it, no blame whatever can be attached to them by the owner. In the mean time, Mrs. Delamour gains her object; that of having it known throughout the circle of her fashionable acquaintance, that she has constant access to the library of a well known literary character, to whose labours, she darkly insinuates, she contributes no inconsiderable aid.
The object of the visit which had occasioned me the interruption to which I have just referred, was to procure for one or two of her very
intimate friends, (married women, as she declared upon her honour), the perusal of Don Juan, and Mr. Moore's poetry, including certain productions which our modern Anacreon tells us he regrets having written, yet still continues to publish, entitled “ Little's Poems.” As a bribe to my wife, to secure her co-operation such matters, she condescends, now and then, to teach her how to dissipate my patrimony in 'French flounces, furbelows, and such like frippery. She dared not ask me for these very pure sentimentalities, because she was well aware that I should have made the fear of endangering her morals an excuse for the protection of my property. Of course, I had no alternative, but to deliver
For, oh ye lords of ladies intellectual,
There are certain modern publications which, although exceedingly dissimilar in character, must have some common attraction, or one would have less difficulty in keeping them upon one's shelves. Most of the following works have been stolen from my library, repeatedly; and I never, in any single instance, was fortunate enough to detect the depredator : Moore's Lyrics, including his Melodies ; Campbell's Gertrude of Wyoming ; Adam Blair ; The Improvisatrice; Colton's Lacon, (his Satire on Hypocrisy was once purloined, but was replaced on my shelves, a few days afterwards, uninjured); Southey's Life of Nelson; The small edition of the Sketch-Book; Major's Walton's Angler, (I have lost both a large and small paper copy of this charm ing volume, with the locum tenens of the former I fancy I am acquainted; but my wife insists that it is impossible); Rétsch's Outlines from Faust, although a quarto; The New Diamond Edition of Shakspeare, (unrivalled in popularity and portability); the second volume of Charles Lamb's Works; the post octavo edition of Wilson's Poems; Rochefoucault's Maxims ; Boccaccio's Decameron, in one volume ; Sharpe's editions of Cowper, Burns, and Collins ; Hookham’s Catalogue, and that of the Minerva Press. A volume of the first Series of the Curiosities of Literature disappeared on one occasion, but was speedily returned ; probably, in consequence of the difficulty of removing the entire set. Hazlitt's Liber Amoris, with the Author's Autograph on the fly leaf, was once missing; but was found by one of my rosy urchins underneath his nurse's mattrass. Dr. Kitchener's Cook's Oracle was abstracted by my cook, and I only discovered the theft by the airs she gave herself at the want of those conveniences, perquisites, and privileges, which the worthy Doctor had assured her were wholly indispensable in a genteel family; and, in behalf of the reasonableness of which, she could not refrain from citing his authority.
It is a melancholy fact, that persons who would not wrong you of a sixpence in hard cash, will have no scruple whatever in plundering you of your books, whenever they have an opportunity of doing so. I am acquainted with a “grave and reverend seignor,” who, barring this little failing, is one of the worthiest and best principled men breathing. Yet this otherwise unexceptionable character, has actually formed a complete library from the depredations he has committed upon the learned repositories of his friends and neighbours. All his predatory incursions are, however, carried on in the character of a book-borrower; and truth to say, he is one of the most irresistible of his tribe : for, although you are morally certain you will never see any thing he thinks proper to borrow, again, he does the thing in so cavalier a manner, that one does not know what the deuce to say to him. No sooner does he learn that you have received a fresh importation, than he stalks, with a gait as stiff and stately as that of the ghost in Hamlet, into your library ; and having taken up a favourable position for his purpose, begins disinterring the illustrious dead, (for he has, or affects to have, a most profound contempt for the writings of all modern authors, save himself), with the silence and rapidity of a general, marching under cover of the night, to surprise his unconscious enemy. Hints, be they ever so broad, he refuses to take; gentle expostulations he will not hear; and convulsive entreaties he ridicules. Yet, with all his assurance, he looks so confoundedly honest, that you cannot, for the life of you, muster resolution enough to affront him. When his appetite for plunder, under the guise of borrowing, is pretty well sated, he turns round with a look which seems to say,
See, I have culled the “books” that promised best,
and having given the preconcerted signal, a brawny maid servant waddles into the room, and before you can recover your surprise at his unparallelled audacity, you hear the street door slammed after them, and see him marching in advance of his plunder, with all the consequence of a knight returning from the field of conquest, attended by his squire, bearing with him, as the spoils of war, the paraphernalia of his discomfited opponent. A friend and neighbour of mine, who has a great regard for this literary Jonathan Wild, but who, although he will allow an acquaintance to clear out from his dining room with three bottles of excellent claret in his hold, does not care to be furtively deprived of a book, however trifling its value, has, after manifesting the forbearance of a martyr, for years, cut this master of arts dead, in his own defence; for, as he once laconically observed to me, “dến that man's honesty, who, whilst he robs you of all that is portable which he does want, has scruples of conscience as it regards the abstraction of your chairs and tables, which he does not want.” The principle upon which Tiraboschi accounts for the universal disposition, even among persons who really would not wrong you of a farthing in any
way, to plunder you of your books, is an ingenious one. He says, that people seem to glory in these thefts, as much as the monks of the darker ages used to exult in stealing the relics of a saint, and for the same reason. However, as this is a protestant country, it is time the custom was put a stop to. I have often thought of imitating a systematic refuser of requests, with whom I have the pleasure to be acquainted; who, whenever any one asks a favour of him, with which he does not care to comply, answers, that he has made a rule against acceding to whatever you desire of him; and adds, that for your sake, he deeply deplores the circumstance, as he should otherwise have had the greatest pleasure in doing you the kindness you seek at his hands. But I fear that, considering the notoriety of my good nature in book-lending, I should soon be quizzed out of this shabby kind of excuse. Something I must decide upon, and that promptly, for my library begins to present such an assemblage of maimed, mutilated, broken-backed, vagabond-looking subjects, that I protest, I sometimes fancy I am in an hospital, provided by voluntary subscripton for lame and invalid authors. The most feasible plan which suggests itself to me at this moment is, to call a meeting of private book-collectors at the Freemasons' Hall, to take into consideration the propriety of passing the following resolutions :
I. Resolved.—That the practice of lending books to one's friends has become not only an intolerable nuisance, but has also proved extremely injurious to the best interests of literature, including those of the trade; inasmuch as it has prevented many persons from purchasing books, who have it in their power so to do; and has been, moreover, the means of depriving literary men, and collectors, of limited incomes, of volumes which they have found it extremely inconvenient to replace.
II. Resolved.-That one half the books lent for the accommodation of friends, are destroyed for any subsequent useful or ornamental purpose ; and that the other half are stolen, some by ladies who rob you perforce ; others by demure looking scoundrels who pillage you per stratagem.
III. Resolved.—That as there are many persons in the world too poor, or too mean, to subscribe to the circulating libraries of Messrs. Hookham, Andrews, Ebers, or the public library in Conduit Street, each collector shall open a subscription, at his or her expense, for the benefit of their poor or stingy friends; provided always, those friends will consent to plead for the favour in forma pauperis.
IV. Resolved.—That book-lending be, in future, wholly abolished among private collectors; and that the regulation subscribed to by the undersigned possessors of some of the most extensive and valuable collections about town, be considered a sufficient excuse for the abandonment of this pernicious practice. Any collector infringing on this edict, to undergo the penalty of being hung in effigy, on the gibbets or borders of Blackwood, the Monthly, New Monthly, and London Magazines.
If this plan and these resolutions do not produce the desired effect, I shall begin to consider the evil as insurmountable.
Caxton Lodge, August 20, 1824.
P.S. Since writing the above, my elegantly bound copy (India paper proofs) of Battye's Italy, lent by my eldest daughter to one of her schoolfellows who is said to draw sweetly, has been put into my hands, with the young lady's compliments and thanks. On turning over its pages, I find that the fair borrower must be an admirer of Turner; for she has slobbered gamboge over every other leaf; spilled a saucer of vermillion over the Leman, thus converting it into a red sea; and so marred and indented the prints, in her attempts to trace them through tissue paper, that the backs of them look exactly like pasteboards pricked into holes to decorate drawing-room grates. As for the morocco binding, it is so bedaubed and besmeared with every variety of opposite colour, that it presents as striking a combination of hues as a dying dolphin, or a summer rainbow. The book before it got into the clutches of this boarding-school minx, (I abominate boarding-school girls), was honestly worth ten guineas; and would now be no bargain at a price of as many shillings. Oh, that Job had been a book-lender! I see, clearly, that I have only one alternative, and that is to set fire to my house, and claim compensation for the loss of my library, at the rate at which it was orignally insured. Egad, I'll do it!